Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Invading Influenza Army

ATV demonstrated the other day - not for the first time - that they desperately need a numerate news editor.  Reporting on plans to give new flu shots to elderly residents of care homes, Arthur Urquiola stated that "Some 200,000 doctors will be on hand to administer the injections".  According to government statistics, Hong Kong had 13,203 registered doctors at the end of 2013 - about 1 per 550 members of the population - so either our medical schools have been extraordinarily busy in the past year raising that proportion to 1 in 35, or there's something seriously wrong with ATV's figures.  Furthermore, with only 57,200 people in such homes, that many doctors seems a little excessive for the purpose.

Perhaps all those thousands of people on the streets with wheeled suitcases are visiting medical volunteers bringing in urgently needed vaccine supplies.  But in that case, what are they taking back home with them?  I think we should be told.
[Picture: CNN]

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Carrie On Regardless

The wit and wisdom of Carrie Lam:

ATV News: "Chief Secretary Carrie Lam urged pan-democratic lawmakers who have vowed to veto the government's reform proposal to put aside their ideals in pursuit of democracy and support the plan."
ATV News: "Lam shouted slogans and called on everyone not to listen to people who claim the package is not real universal suffrage."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Return to Paradise

If you're thinking I haven't posted anything for a while, it's mainly because I was away in Europe for three weeks, and then didn't return to watching the news for a week after getting back to Hong Kong.

You can't imagine how gloriously refreshing it was to take a break from Hong Kong politics - not to be subjected to CY's robotic intonation of Beijing's latest nonsense every day; Rita Fan's gleeful smirk as she again tells Hong Kong people they haven't a hope of achieving their legitimate aspirations; Carrie Lam's forced smile as she again reads from a script she must know is rubbish, while dreaming of her retirement home in England (poor England!); Maria Tam gazing adoringly at Xi Jinping like a lovestruck groupie who's just won admittance to Led Zeppelin's dressing room; greasy Greg So and the equally oleaginous Rimsky Yuen peddling their latest line of Beijing-approved snake oil; obscure mainland academics who've never been near Hong Kong posing as experts on the place; the permanently angry Leticia Lee berating anyone who doesn't love the CCP, or who does love someone of their own sex; Robert Chow repeatedly trying to get in the Guinness Book of Records for gathering the largest number of dubious signatures on a petition; imported blue ribbon thugs; and all the rest of the unlovely establishment crew.

When leaving London I usually buy a decent bottle of single malt at Heathrow - a more expensive exercise every year.  This year it was Talisker Dark Storm, which cost me around £42.  Then in transit at Frankfurt, I noticed they had it at a special offer price of €44, so I picked up another bottle.  Out of curiosity, I checked the duty free price in Hong Kong on arrival - HK$730.  Let's compare:
Then I did actually hear one bit of current news: the Hong Kong government, alarmed at the recent drop in tourist revenues, is planning a new campaign to promote Hong Kong as a shoppers' paradise - something it hasn't been for more than 20 years.  The irony here is that it's largely the overwhelming influx of visitors, mainly from the mainland, that has jacked up commercial rents to unprecedented heights, forcing prices up to far above paradisiacal levels.  So the government wants to attract more of them.

Anyway, here I am back in paradise...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

If the Message Stinks, Repeat It Louder

When not blatantly brown-nosing China's leaders with an editorial (above) that could have been cloned straight from the front page of the China Daily, the South China Morning Post is usually sucking up to Hong Kong's business lobby.
Naturally, therefore, it joins the hysterical chorus demanding a third runway at Chek Lap Kok.  The public, it tells us, "can be excused for feeling confused about the development of the airport's third runway".  The Post suffers from no such uncertainty, assuring us with an air of smug superiority, "that the project is still challenged by different sectors at this stage underlines the need for better explanation."

That the project has failed to win public support is arrogantly assumed by the writer to be a mere failure of communication.  All that needs to be done, in his (or her) view, is to keep shouting the same message at the public until it gets across to them.

Does it not occur to these dumbclucks that the real reason the plan "has yet to get broad public support" may be that the case for the third runway is far from proven?  Perhaps the public is not convinced because the case for the project is not convincing.  For a start, even the editorial admits that it has not yet been decided who will pay for this grandiose mega-project, estimated to cost HK$136 billion -- though such massive infrastructure ventures typically end up costing far more than the originally budgeted figure.

Although the government conducted a public consultation exercise on the issue back in 2011, this was based on a highly selective presentation of the facts, and several trends have changed since then.  China's economy has slowed, along with the rest of the world's, probably leaving forecasts of future demand overstated.  Climate scientists' warnings of the dangers of global warming have become more urgent, though carbon emissions were not even considered in the original environmental impact assessment.  Even "pro-China" politicians are now calling for a cap on tourist numbers as Hong Kong creaks at the seams to accommodate too many mainland visitors.  And recent studies suggest that the beleaguered local Chinese White Dolphin population - whose habitat sits in the way of the proposed land reclamation - is under even greater stress than previously thought. All these have negative implications for airport expansion.

In fact so many factors are involved that it is doubtful that any forecast of future air travel demand can be more than a best guess, depending on what assumptions one chooses to make.  Economic developments, fuel costs, the ongoing movement of manufacturing away from the Pearl River Delta deeper into China, the adoption of larger planes like the Airbus A380, the effect on wildlife, the impact of China's expanding High Speed Rail network on demand for air travel, the shortage of local construction workers - so many uncertainties surround all these variables that any prediction is likely to be well off the mark.  In fact the only certainties -- increased noise and air pollution if the project goes ahead and the likely wiping out of our local dolphin population -- all support the cancellation of the expansion plan.

"Our status as a regional aviation hub" the Post argues "hinges on whether we can compete with other airports" -- but readers' comments beneath the original editorial question whether we can -- or need to be -- a regional aviation hub in a region with four other airports. Indeed, some suggest that the region's airspace is too crowded already to permit the number of extra flights required to make the additional runway cost-justifiable.

Of course those in the aviation sector -- with the Post as their cheerleader -- predictably insist that the third runway is urgently essential, because it will benefit them.  But is is by no means clear that it will benefit the community as a whole.

Making It Better:
Worldwide Fund for Nature

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lighten Up, Loonies!

The Hong Kong government's arrogant insistence that it's right about everything, even as it steers the ship of state ever closer to the looming rocks, is annoying enough - it's come to the point where I feel physical revulsion every time I turn on the TV and the face of CY Leung, Gregory So, Paul Chan or one or two other particularly creepy ministers looms out at me.  Now it seems some of these people are going totally off the mental rails into the stratospheric realms of hyperbolic simile, far removed from mundane reality.

The government has been seeking HK$35 million from the Legislative Council to set up an Innovation & Technology Bureau - a request opposed by many pan-democrats in the Council.  The proposed Bureau is supposed to spur the development of the technology sector in Hong Kong - though many in the IT sector, one of its principal intended beneficiaries, doubt it will achieve anything other than adding a few more overpaid political jobs to an already bloated roster.

Partly for this reason, and partly out of their generalised (and not entirely ill-founded) principle that anything the government wants to do must be wrong, the pan-democrats in LegCo are opposing the government's funding request.  Hong Kong politics as usual, so far - but this is where things start to get crazy.  First Chief Executive CY Leung likens moves to prevent the Bureau's formation to "killing a baby in the womb".  Then ExCo member Fanny Law literally brings down a curse on opponents of the Bureau, suggesting they will "be destroyed by heaven and Earth" (apparently heavy stuff in Chinese).

As if this isn't extreme enough, she compounds her self-righteous posturing by likening the bill's opponents to terrorists, declaring "Just like the Islamic [State] when I saw them kidnap people and just chop off their heads ... I was just heartbroken."  Well, lighten up, CY and Fanny - the pan-democrats may often be irritating, even to their own supporters, but so far as I'm aware not even the occasionally rabid-mannered Wong Yuk-Man has yet started kidnapping people and brutally slashing their throats.

It's not a moral issue, not a matter of life and death - just a new government department that may or may not help boost Hong Kong's technology sector.  Probably not - I tend to agree with Civic Party legislator Alan Leong that the administration lacks the vision necessary to boost innovation and technology in Hong Kong. In fact, efforts by governments usually have far less to do with the expansion of a particular economic sector in any country than the chance confluence of the right conditions for its growth.

So less of the heavy talk and more of the calm discussion, please - and Fanny, if you continue to have these delusions, you can get free psychiatric treatment at government hospitals in Hong Kong.  Just ask - they won't cut your head off!

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Slow Painful Death of ATV

Amid all the hopeful talk of finding new investors to revive ATV's fortunes, no one seems to be paying much attention to one awkward fact: the station's licence expires later this year.  Since it has already failed to pay its licence fee on time and cannot even afford to pay its staff at present, the prospect that any sane broadcasting authority would renew its licence is virtually nil (though in Hong Kong's current crazy political climate nothing can be entirely ruled out).  Anyone putting money into ATV would be extremely unlikely to recover their investment in less than a few years, even if they could turn the station around and persuade people to watch it again, something which would require substantial additional investment in some decent programmes.  Meanwhile they would run a strong risk of the licence not being renewed, sending their investment straight down the drain.

Unless an insane investor comes along, therefore, the station is likely to expire completely within a month or two, opening the way for a renewed licence application from HKTV which the government would find it very hard to turn down this time.

Meanwhile the station still limps feebly along.  The English evening news, now curtailed to 15 minutes, shows little sign of being edited and turns up some entertaining bloopers.  Apparently all the pilots of the Taiwanese airline that had a crash recently are going to be "evacuated" (evaluated).  Even more surprisingly, the Costa Concordia was "a floating hotel 290 km long".  That being the distance from Hong Kong to Shantou, it's not surprising it was so difficult to salvage - unless they mean 290 m, the sunken ship's real length.

And as for the sports news, why does Bo Leung insist on referring to every goalkeeper as "the custodian"?  That's a pretentious word that sports hacks occasionally use for stylistic variety, but no ordinary football fan would do so - the goalie or the keeper will do nicely, thank you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Overlooking the Obvious

Ten facts that should be obvious to any reasonably intelligent person here, but apparently not to the Hong Kong government:
  1. Hong Kong is already grossly overpopulated and doesn't have room for more people.
  2. A growing population will need more green space for relaxation and recreation, not less, so we should stop eating away at it for other purposes.
  3. Pushing through the government's blatantly undemocratic political reform proposal is more likely to exacerbate discontent in Hong Kong than to eliminate it.
  4. With more and more people and a finite supply of land, the village house policy is clearly unsustainable (apart from being a scam whereby "New Territories villagers" who don't even live in Hong Kong any more come back to grab their piece of subsidised land).
  5. There is a limit to the number of tourists Hong Kong can accept without straining its infrastructure to breaking point.
  6. The bridge to Macau will never be economically viable or environmentally sensible.
  7. If you're going to build a high speed railway between two cities (not a bad ideas in itself), the termini should be at major transport intersections to facilitate onward travel, not stuck in the middle of nowhere.
  8. As one of the richest cities in the world (in terms of GDP per capita), Hong Kong could easily afford to eliminate poverty and give all its citizens a decent standard of living - there is absolutely no reason why 80-year-old ladies should be reduced to scavenging cardboard boxes to survive.
  9. When small businesses complain that they can't afford to give their workers a better deal, it's not because wages are too high, but a) because too much of their revenue goes to paying inflated commercial rents, and/or b) they're greedy (pick one or both).
  10. When the mainland insists on selling us more water than we need at a price much higher than other cities in China pay, it's time to look again at the economics of desalination, not just meekly accept whatever non-negotiable deal is on the table.